Plaque with biblical scene 'The prophet of Judah killed by a lion', 1658 tin-glazed earthenware, Museum Prinsenhof Delft. On loan from the Stichting voor Hulp aan Delftse Jongeren (SHDJ) (photo Tom Haartsen)
© Museum Prinsenhof Delft
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Vermeer’s Delft at Museum Prinsenhof

Nov. 3, 2022

The exhibition Vermeer’s Delft will exanine the life of Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), his network and his relationship with the city of Delft. Over 100 objects from Dutch and foreign collections, including masterpieces by Delft painters, objects of applied art, maps, prints, drawings, books, biographical documents and other archival matter, a picture of the bustling city atmosphere of the 17th century will be painted. The exhibition will run concurrently with the major Vermeer exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Man behind the myth

Vermeer’s Delft takes visitors back to 17th-century Delft. They will make the acquaintance of people from Vermeer’s immediate surroundings, like his mother-in-law, Maria Thins, his fellow painter Leonaert Bramer, family notary Willem de Langue, art collectors Maria de Knuijt and her husband, Pieter van Ruijven, and master baker Hendrick van Buyten, who also collected art. Visitors will meet a man of flesh and blood: husband, son-in-law, entrepreneur, father of 15 children, and innkeeper. They will thus get closer to the man behind the myth and better understand how Vermeer became one of the most beloved artists of the 17th century.

Thriving artistic climate

Vermeer was active in Delft at a time when local painting, and Delft genre painting in particular, reached a high point. Important masters like Paulus Potter, Emanuel de Witte and Jan Steen spent time in Delft and painters such as Carel Fabritius, Gerard Houckgeest and Hendrick van Vliet laid the foundations for important artistic innovations with their new approach to perspective, space and light. Johannes Vermeer benefited like no other from these artistic stimuli, which he adapted to his own purposes. The exhibition presents masterpieces by the most important masters in Delft from the period 1550-1675: Pieter de Hooch, Jan Steen, Gerard Houckgeest, Cornelis de Man, Anthonie Palamedesz and Maria van Oosterwijck. On the basis of their works of art, we will paint a picture of the artistic climate around Vermeer, which shaped him as an artist.


The Procuress, from 1622, by Dirck van Baburen (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), is a key work in the exhibition. The painting may have been part of the collection of Maria Thins, Vermeer’s mother-in-law, with whom he and his wife and children lived. Vermeer painted this work in the background of A Young Woman seated at a Virginal (National Gallery, London). Besides this clear reference, Vermeer was influenced in his early work by Utrecht Caravaggisti like Van Baburen. He even literally borrows the subject of the procuress.

Another absolute masterpiece is Jan Steen’s 1655 painting Adolf and Catharina Croeser on the Oude Delft (also known as The Burgomaster of Delft and his Daughter), from the Rijksmuseum. Although Steen was only active in Delft for a short time, he did paint this exceptionally beautiful portrait of the wealthy grain merchant Adolf Croeser and his 13-year-old daughter Catharina, who lived diagonally across from Steen. At the same time, Steen portrayed two beggars next to the prosperous pair. In the blink of an eye, the rich and poor of Delft come into sight. A reality Vermeer experienced himself: after years of prosperity –he belonged to an upper, well-to-do class as a result of his marriage to the wealthy Catharina Bolnes – he died a poor man in the end. And left his wife and children in debt. After Steen’s painting came into foreign hands, the Rijksmuseum was able to acquire it in 2004.

Exceptional archival matter

The Stadsarchief Delft (City Archive) holds dozens of items related to the ups and downs of Vermeer’s family, friends and colleagues: estate inventories, wills, certificates of marriages and births, records of conflicts and of burials. A selection of archival matter enables visitors to actually witness certain moments in their lives. Besides this, 17th-century cityscapes, prints and maps provide a factual image of Delft as Vermeer saw it. Visitors take a step back in time, into the world as the artist must have experienced it.

Audio tour and podwalk

The audio tour with the exhibition (available in three languages: English, Dutch and French) focuses on the people close to Vermeer. In a podwalk of at least three instalments, Vermeer’s Delft comes to life in stories told by experts ‘visiting’ the most important locations in Vermeer’s life.

Vermeer in Amsterdam

Concurrently with the exhibition at the Museum Prinsenhof Delft, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam will host the first exhibition on Vermeer in its history. With loans from around the world, this promises to be the largest Vermeer exhibition ever. Preceding the exhibition, the Rijksmuseum is researching Vermeer’s artistry, his artistic choices and motivations for his compositions, as well as his creative process. In this, the museum is working closely with the Mauritshuis in the Hague.

Johannes Vermeer

The Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (1632 – 1675) lived and worked in the Dutch city of Delft. Vermeer left a remarkably small oeuvre with about 35 paintings. His paintings are such prized treasures of any collection, they are rarely lent out.

The exhibition will run from 10 February to 4 June 2023.

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